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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:24 am:   

Just starting a thread of its own now. Post away!
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:55 am:   

Carrying on, bravely.

Never read SCANNER DARKLY. Never read any PKD, to be honest. Probably a falling down, on my part.

First off, the question of how you can know something is autobiographical when you don't know the author. I can't. I can't know that a lot of the stories that I *suspect* are autobiographical actually are. I extrapolate, based on the writer bio that usually accompanies most stories. If I read a story, and I feel that the characterization is weak, or the setting seems...I don't know...flimsy I guess, I look at the author bio to try to determine if this guy (or gal) is resorting to the elements of his own life.

In analog a few months ago, there was a story called THE IMMORTALITY PLAGUE. Wish fulfillment. In fact, analog does that a lot, so I've just stopped reading that mag. In the last FSF there was a story (I think SHELTERING?) about an old man complaining about war, and people's attitudes to it. The author and the character were born in the same year, and the plot of the story was simply this guy talking to himself about the people around him. I don't know the author, but I'm willing to go all in that that was a pretty heavily autobiographical story. And it wasn't terribly enlightening, just informative as to this individual's opinion. *shrug*

If you want longer examples, read anything by Greg Iles. He has one character - a slightly dumpy, suddenly rich guy to whom beautiful women flock, so that they might perform acts of explicit narrative. On second thought, don't bother.

What we're really getting at here are the first causes of literature. What influences us, what shapes our narrative, and how do we filter that into something unique and worth reading?
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Alan
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 12:13 pm:   

I'll repost this:

Motion of Light in Water> excellent guest star appearances by W.H. Auden, Einstein, and Bob Dylan, even.

Tim, have you read A Scanner Darkly? Did you think that the use of (semi-clearly) personal experiences of PKD's life was a detriment to the novel? Not sure if that is wish fulfullment, as much of an exploration of paranoid (and funny, funny for us, at least) hell.

More later.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 09:43 am:   

Tim, it seems to me that what you are reacting too is not autobiography so much as something that fanfiction calls "MarySue stories." That is, stories where MarySue is a character in a Star Trek story and she saves the ship and Kirk falls in love with her--when it seems pretty obvious that there isn't much of a distinction between MarySue and the author's fantasies. Wishfullfillment stories.

I have a rule when I write that my stories are never about fiction writers, which is an attempt to avoid this kind of thing.

But I have a story on SciFi.com at

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/mchugh/

that takes place in my house and my neighborhood and even at my local police station. But I wouldn't consider it autobiographical. I'd be curious to know how it strikes you.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

Okay, I suppose that's a point I can concede. I'm still going to avoid using autobiography in my own work, unless there's no better way to get at the point of the story.

Maureen, I'm already familiar with FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and didn't find the setting false or the characterization flimsy at all. You pass the litmus test. <g>

Another story on that site that is pretty obviously autobiographical, but that works really well, is Octavia Butler's work, THE BOOK OF MARTHA. On the other had, Prill's BIG HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE was also fairly autobiographical, but I really didn't like it at all.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 09:58 am:   

Tim,

I really did worry about the autobiographical details in "Frankenstein's Daughter" which goes to the heart of your original point, I think. That autobiographical writing can be self-indulgent.
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Tim Pratt
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 12:43 pm:   

Then there's something like Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys, which began life as a short story where the characters were named after Scott and his family members, and depicted (rather horrific) events that never actually happened to Scott's family. Later he expanded the story into a novel and created characters that were analagous to the ones in the story, but were very clearly not "based on" his family. So there you have something that pretends to be autobiography (not unlike The Things They Carried by O'Brien, which is dead brilliant, and has loads to say about the nature of fiction) which mutates into a much more traditional sort of horror novel. One bit of trivia: the short-story began as a story told orally around a Hallowe'en campfire, and the autobiographical details were likely included to make it spookier, add versimilitude, etc.

I don't really have a point. The discussion just reminded me of the story.
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JeffV
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 01:21 pm:   

I find that the more clearly autobiographical elements I put into a story, the more remote the story seems to me. "Strange Case of X" in City of Saints contains the most autobiographical info about me of any story, and yet I don't feel it is a personal story. In it, the information is revealed in a Q & A with an interrogator. So, perhaps this is one way past the idea that if you put too much of your personal life, with no chemical reaction with your imagination occurring first, that the story will be "thin". Either *don't* thinly disguise it--just plop it wholesale into a particular context in a particular story where it serves as authenticating detail, or, of course, let it become fragmented and riddled through with lies and fabrications and then give it over to your subconscious to marinate before it comes out in your writing.

I have to say that a story like "Dradin, In Love" is for me much more autobiographical even though no one but me would understand what details in it are autobiographical. No one on the outside would think of that as "autobiographical fiction." But, to me, it is a secret, fragmented diary. I feel the same about most of my fiction. This is probably why I don't keep a diary--it's all hardwired into the fiction in some way, and so I see my whole life there. A certain line in a certain story calls up a whole intense memory. Is it this way for most writers? I don't know. I suspect so. I suspect I am stating the obvious.
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 - 03:45 pm:   

JeffV,

It probably isn't the obvious, but it certainly rings true to me. I think my novels are very autobiographical in very important ways (I have described my first novel as a collection of my obsessions, which makes me a faghag Sinophile obsessed with food; not a way I would publically present myself but which was rather autobiographical in the years, 1987 to 1989, when I wrote the book. It's certainly more autobiographical than the details of suburban neighborhoods in "Frankenstein's Daughter.") And I, too, don't keep a journal because I feel as if I've already written about my life.
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barth
Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 10:22 am:   

every time i keep a journal, i start bullshitting like crazy, which is either a twist on what we're talking about or a confirmation of it.

same thing happened when i tried my hand at journalism. when i was eighteen, i reported on my hometown radio news that soviet tanks were rolling into west bend. of course, the station didn't even get a single phone call. (so much for my stab at "war of the worlds.")
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 10:28 am:   

Barth, I think you should keep a journal. On-line.

I'm such a good Catholic girl I would never think to lie in my journal.
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barth
Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 06:52 am:   

i'm sure everyone here has already seen alan's blog? not that i'm calling him a liar by any means, but talk about taking exquisite liberties with a journal:

http://ptarmigan.blogspot.com/

thanks for the vote of confidence on keeping a blog, maureen. experienced parents keep telling me with sadistic glee that i won't have time to write anymore, once the impending crash of the meteor-baby hits planet barth. i doubt that's true, but it might be a few months before i can think writing time, let alone blog. we'll see.

(btw, my wife's due date is the day after tomorrow. everyone say it with me:

holy freakin sh*t!)
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Maureen McHugh
Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 08:03 am:   

Barth, I take it back. Starting a baby-raising is better than blogging. Although it does take more time and at first the audience is smaller, it has a coolness factor way beyond blogging. Think of the smells alone.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

When Sean was born, John Lennon's diaries (which were stolen and copied after his death) apparently had nothing but the words "baby baby baby..." in them for several months.

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